S. Koreans Plan Marches Despite Police Threat

Times Staff Writers

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to take to the streets of Seoul and 17 other South Korean cities today in anti-government protest marches.

Gen. Kwon Bok Kyung, the national police director, Thursday declared the demonstrations illegal and labeled the sponsor, the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, a "subversive group." Kwon said that police will deal sternly with the "reckless and illegal demonstrations."

Police detained more than 1,800 people today in street sweeps of dissident activists, United Press International reported.

The protests come in the wake of a meeting between President Chun Doo Hwan and Kim Young Sam, head of the main opposition party. Kim's party called Wednesday's talks, aimed at a political solution to two weeks of turmoil here, a failure, and threw its weight behind today's street demonstrations.

Kim Dae Jung, the other major opposition leader, said Thursday, "I will do my best to encourage demonstrators to be moderate and nonviolent. Violent protesters can't get support from middle classes. . . . Violence can invite more violence from the dictatorial government." But he added that he anticipates trouble.

Kim Dae Jung was released from 78 days of house arrest at midnight Wednesday, a precondition that Kim Young Sam set for meeting Chun. This morning, Kim was placed under house arrest again, wire services reported, and police sealed off his house to keep him from attending today's march. Police told him the house arrest will be lifted Saturday, his aides said.

Thursday, the government said that it will comply in part with Kim Young Sam's other precondition, the release of demonstrators arrested since the protests began June 10 when the government party nominated its chairman, Roh Tae Woo, as its presidential candidate in elections still tentatively scheduled for late this year. The prosecutor's office said it would free more than 200 of the demonstrators Monday.

Chung Kyong Shik, a prosecution official, reported that 321 people had been arrested through Wednesday, with 239 of them turned over for prosecution, the vast majority college students. Among those who will not be released, Chung said, were 13 officials of the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, the amalgam of religious and human rights groups that is sponsoring today's marches.

Among the 13 is Yang Soon Jik, a vice president of Kim Young Sam's Reunification Democratic Party, which is a member of the coalition.

Meanwhile, Chun met Thursday with Roman Catholic Cardinal Stephen Kim, the last in a series of meetings he has held this week with elder statesmen, churchmen and opposition leaders designed to portray himself as ready for what his spokesman called "a grand compromise" on the eve of the rallies.

The cardinal, however, did not cooperate.

The prelate, who heads South Korea's 2 million Catholics, told Chun he hoped he would "make a courageous decision to democratize the country" before leaving office next February, a government summary of the meeting said. He also advised the president that "you should accept a direct presidential election system as the best system"--the system demanded by the opposition, which Chun has rejected for more than a year.

Supports Referendum

Cardinal Kim also urged Chun to accept the opposition's proposal to let the people resolve the impasse over constitutional reform by voting in a referendum on what form of government should be adopted--the proposal Chun rejected in his talks with Kim Young Sam.

"I hope you . . . will make a wise decision to accept the popular will and establish the framework for democratization (so that) you will retire with the good wishes of the people," the prelate told Chun, according to a government summary of the conversation.

As police and students prepared for today's protests, the death of the first demonstrator in the two weeks of clashes was reported. Lee Tae Chun, 28, a rubber plant worker, was critically injured last week in a protest in the southern port of Pusan. He died in a hospital Wednesday. His family and fellow demonstrators say he was hit in the head by a police tear-gas canister, then fell from an overpass.

The police have also suffered one fatality in the often violent clashes that have swept the country since June 10. The policeman was killed when a protester, later identified as a former convict, drove a stolen bus into a line of riot police in Taejon.

Demonstrations slacked off early this week, apparently in anticipation of the Chun-Kim Young Sam talks, and the college campuses in Seoul were generally quiet Thursday. But a sharp clash between students and riot police took place at Sogang University, and at nearby Yonsei University an estimated 2,500 medical students from eight campuses staged a peaceful anti-government protest, attired in hospital gowns and surgical masks.

Thursday night, police moved through the city, looking for stashes of firebombs--gasoline-filled bottles--used by radical students in past demonstrations.

Today's marches are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., when motorists have been asked to honk in protest against the government. The sponsoring coalition has labeled the action the "people's grand peace march." Demonstrators plan to gather at six assembly points and march on Pagoda Park, a downtown site traditionally used for anti-government protests, beginning with a demonstration against Japanese colonial rule in 1919.

The park lies about two miles from the presidential residence, where the military provides security. "They're not going to let them get anywhere close," a Western diplomat predicted Thursday.

The police strategy is to break up the crowds at the assembly points--four in the downtown area and two farther out--before the marches can begin.

On Tuesday at the Yonsei University campus, more than 20,000 students from Yonsei and other Seoul colleges staged a stadium rally and vowed to take to the streets today, whatever the outcome of political talks between the government and the opposition.

60,000 Police Expected

"If you have a cadre of 20,000, you have the potential for many more," the Western diplomat observed. The government is expected to deploy about 60,000 riot police in Seoul alone.

Cardinal Kim's support for opposition demands dealt Chun a psychological blow on the eve of the rallies. Although the prelate had supported the opposition's proposal for direct presidential elections before, it was the first time he made the appeal directly to Chun.

Chun and his ruling Democratic Justice Party, rejecting opposition demands for direct election of the president instead of the present system of choosing a president with authoritarian powers through an indirect election, have urged a change to a parliamentary system under which a strong prime minister would be chosen by popularly elected members of the National Assembly.

Chun complained to the cardinal that Kim Young Sam had made too many demands, the government summary said.

"It's difficult to accept all of them at once," Chun said. He promised, however, to "spend sufficient time" studying Kim Young Sam's demands.

The president confided to the prelate that he felt "a tendency for the people not to believe me" because the last two fully invested presidents of South Korea, the late Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, had been authoritarian leaders.

"Because of the (people's) inherent mistrust toward the leading person in charge, I have had many difficulties," Chun told Cardinal Kim. It is to restore trust in South Korea's leadership that "I intend to keep my promise to step down after one term," he said.

After the meeting, the cardinal appeared to criticize both Chun and Kim Young Sam. He issued a statement saying, "The current political crisis cannot be defused in the way in which President Chun and the opposition leader had talks. The talks were merely a meaningless gesture, not a real dialogue with sincerity for democratization."

Rancor from Wednesday's meeting continued Thursday as Kim's Reunification Democratic Party rejected a call from the ruling party for a meeting between Kim and Roh, its chairman.

"It would be nothing but a waste of time and energy," said Kim Tae Ryong, the opposition party's spokesman. "If Roh has genuine aspirations to resolve the current situation, he should renounce his presidential candidacy."

The spokesman offered to resume a dialogue with the ruling party if Chun's group accepts a national referendum to end the deadlock over the form of government under which a new leader will be chosen.

Kim Dae Jung, after meeting Kim Young Sam in the morning Thursday, declared that the two political allies would regard Chun as having scrapped his April 13 decision to postpone revision of the constitution until after the 1988 Olympic Games only if the government guarantees that it will not conduct elections to choose a new leader under the present constitution.

He also called for Chun to set up a "pan-national cabinet," including members of the opposition, to preside over this year's election, before Chun steps down next Feb. 24.

Chun, in his meeting with Kim Young Sam, offered only to resume talks about constitutional reform.

A ruling party spokesman said that Chun had made clear to Kim Young Sam that Roh has been given full power to negotiate with the opposition on constitutional reforms and urged the opposition party to open talks with him.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World